No, it's not expensive, but shuttles will be much cheaper. It's about 1hr away, IIRC. I expect for around US$50 tho you will find a driver willing to drive you there & wait the day before bringing you back. Phuket taxi drivers are a law unto themselves, better to use a large company with metered cabs than a Suzuki crapbox van. If staying overnight at Khao Lak, take the Patong/Kata shuttles.
I have been looking into this as i need to get from khao lak to karon for a day trip and then back again. I have been quoted 4000baht .2000 baht each way.
For a similar, or lower sum, you could hire a car for a day (or two). A typical saloon is 1500 THB per day inclusive of insurance. There are a number of car rentals in Khao Lak so you can shop around for the best deal.
We negotiated directly with a couple of drivers at different taxi stops in Kata, and the best price we got was 2700 baht plus ferry ticket from Kata up to Kho Khao island and back, which we accepted. Whole day, no time limitation. We had a long lunch and a few other stops in Khao Lak on our way back to Kata. It was a comfortable, new car (not van) and a safe driver who also knew the area very well.
I am not sure how good this price is, but if you only go up to Khao Lak it should be lower, as the island we visited is a longer drive. Just ask around and compare. Maybe meter is possible and also cheaper if you just go up to Khao Lak and back without any longer stop.
We asked our hotels tour desk and a couple of other local tour agencies first. Their price were 3500-5000 baht.
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